People often ask me how I work and I refuse to answer the question because it has absolutely no value at all.
Listen to the audio version of this essay here:
Almost every morning after dropping off my kid at school, I go to the same coffee shop, sit at the same table, drink the same cup of coffee, and write.
It’s the same ritual, every day. I could go to my office that I pay monthly rent for. I could get up earlier and do it at my kitchen table. I could have a system or a schedule or any number of other fancy things my writer friends have.
But I don’t. I do it my way, because it works, because this is how I’ve always done it.
I can’t overestimate how important this is, to find a way to do something creative that works for you. I know writers who pray a prayer, who wear a lucky sweatshirt, who light a candle. I know artists who can only work in the middle of the night, who have to put on a suit and tie to go work in their home office just to feel professional.
Everyone is different. Everyone has their own set of quirky practices that work for them.
Do what works for you
And this is the crux of the matter: do what works for you.
Now, if it’s not working, pay attention to that.
If you’re not getting what you want — not finishing your novel, not making any money off your art, not doing what you want to do, then you should copy someone else’s way of doing things.
You should borrow from your influences, steal from the masters, and do whatever you need to do to figure out a way to do what you want. This is an important part of the process.
Every creative professional must undergo an apprenticeship of some kind. You must think and act like an amateur, a true lover of the work, and study as much as you possibly can. So try this technique and that way. Buy the right equipment, adopt that person’s style. Do all of that. But use it only as a path to the destination. Adopt other people’s ways of doing things so that you can find your way.
Every creative professional must undergo an apprenticeship of some kind.
And once you find it, hold onto it.
I call this staying in your lane. Running your own race. Doing what only you can do. Most of us spend our lives trying to find it. Many of us touch on it, but we’re too scared to grasp it, to hold onto it, because there’s a voice in our head that says “This just might cost you everything.”
And maybe it will. Maybe this is the pearl of great price, the treasure you find in a field somewhere that requires you to sell all you own to possess it.
The call of the creative
Are we willing to give up everything we think we have, and everything we think we are, for something else, something greater?
This is what we’re really talking about here. Not just finding a technique, but coming into contact with your true self, the piece of you that creates art and imagines new realities — your soul.
Maybe you don’t believe in any of this. That’s fine.
But I am certain you have, at times, felt an energy flowing through that you struggled to understand or define. You didn’t know where it came from or how it came, but you wanted it to stay. You might call this flow or adrenaline. Maybe you think of it as God.
What’s more important than the name is the fact that you are present to this feeling, this presence, that when you come in contact with this force, you do better work. You become a better person. Because you’re being who you were meant to be.
It takes great courage to live that way every day, to be you when everyone else is telling you to be someone else. That’s why I will never get over the opening words to that May Sarton poem:
“Now I become myself…”
It’s what we all want to do. It’s what our souls long for and what great art speaks to. That true self hidden deep inside of you.
Will you become it?